August 2005

August 29, 2005 16:45

I sighed and collected myself before crossing the threshold of the local music store today. We have rocky a history, the employees and I, and I’m certain my face reflected it. The past two years in dealing with them has shown me that their service was 100% unreliable. I had never been able to trust my students to get their books through them without some sort of hangup that lasted no less than a month. Occasionally, I would pay a visit in order to confirm my suspicions. Yes, they didn’t even have a copy of “Jesu” somewhere on their bare shelves. I felt secretly vindicated each time I was able to leave in disgust, knowing that I was right in referring all my clients to the much more helpful and well-stocked store in Anchorage.

Today I needed staff paper. Against my pledge to boycott any further patronage to the music store, I returned. The owner stood behind the counter, and I sensed his readiness. Avoiding eye contact so as not to betray my grudge, I made my request. He began his ritual speech about how the latest shipment was at the post office as we speak, that he would be happy to give me spiral bound later in the day, but there was some loose leaf available, and also this half-sheet booklet right here. His rambling (or shall we say, groveling) made me squirm. He continued his pandering behind the counter as I dug for my credit card, flourishing the latest in metronomes and music composition programs. “I can even let you take home a demo to try out. See, I’ve been gone and I just got back, and I know some orders may have gotten a bit screwy this summer, and we’re going to be trying our hardest to keep things in stock, so you just let us know whatever you need.”

If I could just avoid looking at him, I could get out unscathed. No, I looked up. Something about eyes, and I soften. Smiling, I thanked him as I turned to the door.

He just wants to change. Don’t we all want another chance? Although his name represents a business with demands and expectations hung about like the signs on the window, he’s just a person like me. I relate to him in knowing that my name has all kinds of titles added, and each one brings with it all sorts of obligations to perform and excel and be blameless. Word gets around. I get pretty tired of it, myself. After all, I’m still just Emily, and I forget to write it down sometimes, and my home might not be clean when you drop by for a visit. If you see me cutting you off in traffic or catch me letting out an unkind word or two when I smash my finger in the mixer, don’t be so surprised. My businesses aren’t perfect, either.

I’m preparing for my first day back in the studio tomorrow, teaching ten back-to-back lessons. I’m nervous that I might forget something or step on a toe or two. I’ve got a bagful of apologies just in case.

I think I’ll forgive the debts of the music store in town again and see if giving them a second chance doesn’t pay off after all.

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August 25, 2005 18:32

“It’s different where I come from,” the Finnish exchange student replied when I asked her about her previous instruction at the piano and her future goals. She reiterated this several times throughout our conversation. All she really needed to do was play a phrase, and I understood completely.

I obviously agreed to take on something before I really knew what I was getting into. She played her Debussy, Bach, and Rachmaninoff all from memory, with accuracy and a broad spectrum of musicality. I was moved. I, the teacher, was being swept off my feet. I’m feeling weak and soft in my knees now, even in remembering it, feeling foolish for even listening, regretting presumptuous words that might need recanting. She might just be beyond me.

My responsible, rational side tells me not to interfere. It would be a crime to mismanage her, to get my fingers on something with this much potential. What if I was sewing seeds of future regret in her life? I should know what my personal limitations as a teacher are and stick with them; that’s what I should do.

But I’m compelled to keep her for my own enjoyment, for my own selfish need for musical inspiration. I can’t pass her up! There’s obviously no one else for her right now. At least, if nothing else, we could draw from each other’s enthusiasm, perhaps I might encourage her with our similar passion. It’s better than nothing, isn’t it? Is this a valid reason for taking her in? What am I doing? What business have I? She could very well call my bluff, and then I would shrink away in embarrassment for pretending to be someone that I am, in fact, not.

Would you look outside? It’s really coming down now.

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August 23, 2005 12:24

My grandpa Reese was a fiddler, a bluegrass fiddler with West Virginian roots. I say this with the same pride as a schoolgirl telling her classmates, “My dad’s a boss,” or “My dad’s an engineer.” My grandpa carried a legacy of tunes that was passed down aurally through many generations. As far as I know, his jigs and reels came over on the boat from Ireland with a mysterious red-headed chap (or lassie), who had a handful of "greats" preceding his name. I won’t know for certain all the tales that lie behind each link in my heritage, and I cannot be sure of the specific branch on my tree that leads me back to my fiddling roots. Written documentation failed over time; it crumbled, or burned, or was moth-eaten, buried, or blown out to sea. The genealogy that my parents have tried valiantly to resuscitate over the years bears the resmblence of a snowflake, at best--small and full of holes.

Grandpa Reese was my most distant grandparent; divorce kept him isolated, and we never visited him for the major holidays like we did the others. However, in my earlier recollections, I see him gathered with all the great aunts and uncles and friends of his that I didn’t really know, playing music late into the summer night out in rural Oklahoma. Guitars, mandolins, dulcimers, and autoharps chimed in rustic accompaniment, but that fiddle--it sang! Too young to join, I sat out on the porch with my cousins, telling ghost stories and playing with kittens and June bugs, listening to the happy din.

The question arises regularly: why violin? I don’t recall specifically what it was that drew me to the fiddle, but I like to think that perhaps it was already in my blood, calling to me. I coveted Grandpa’s oldest fiddle, the very first violin I ever held; the first time I smelled that powdery rosin buildup was on its bridge. He showed me the horsehair, the pegs, and let me blow an A on his pitch pipe. I would be a fiddler, too, someday. He promised me I could play on his old violin someday when I knew how. Perhaps he would even give it to me!

Someday couldn’t come quickly enough. The years passed, and we saw less and less of Grandpa Reese. I set about the regular study of the violin in my public school orchestra, and it took a while to develop enough skill to start picking out tunes by ear. Finally, the day came when I loaded up my own red, beginner-level violin into the car to play at Grandpa’s. He was older and quieter, and much of the brightness of his mind had succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease. He had forgotten almost everything from recent history, and the memories he still clung to were his earliest ones. He didn’t know me, or even my mother, but if he got a fiddle in his hands, his tactile memory would flip a tune or two out of his fingers without conscious effort. He taught me Devil’s Dream, Carolan’s Draught, and Blackberry Blossom.

Over the years after my first and only musical sharing with my grandpa, my parents researched and acquired the tunes he would play, and I learned as many as I could, myself. We visited him in the nursing home and played, my mom and dad and I. As much as I disliked doing it and hated the way it made my mom feel to see her own father in complete incoherence like that, I’m glad we went. I like to believe that he still remembered the songs, and that the familiar acquaintance comforted him in his final days of hostile confusion.

It was during these years that my grandpa’s second wife chose to have him rewrite his will to exclude his children. He unknowingly left them nothing and gave all of his instruments to her. The guitars, mandolins, and violins sat unused and neglected under the bed for years, and now I don’t even know where they are. I wonder if anyone at all plays that old black fiddle. I suppose it’s important to remember that it was not the instrument that held the music, but the man who held the instrument.

You see, the wood cracks and warps. The pitch pipe, my only keepsake, falls flat when you blow on it. The paper that holds the family tree yellows, tears, and returns to the earth eventually, just like the people whose names fill the branches. I possess the only true legacy of his that continues to flow through the generations: Grandpa Reese’s music.

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August 15, 2005 21:01

National Random Day

It's official. I've declared today National Random Day, after reading several blogs and posts by random people and talking to random people at the coffee shop. No one wanted to do anything in particular, everyone almost did something or other, and usually the conversations wandered off-topic to discuss something car-related. That's the only common link I've found today.

Someone randomly offered to buy my sweet ride today, a '94 no-frills Honda Civic. I'd take 5K, if anyone's interested...

I randomly spilled coffee beans all over the floor at the coffee shop and enjoyed listening to The Gorillas loudly over the sound system while sweeping them up.

A belly ache enticed me to skip the hike today and take a nap and surf the internet for random topics, instead.

And I have 24 containers of free blueberries in my fridge that need sorted and frozen. That's what I'm doing this evening, me and my blue-tongued dog.

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August 12, 2005 20:47

Wedding Vows

Raise your bow if you've ever:

--Read your solo off the piano accompaniment.
--Taped a stand/music up like a hostage for an outdoor wedding.
--Preluded for a boat entrance on a cannery dock.
--Took your cues from the entrance of the dogs.
--Unravelled a string between the second and third run-through.
--Waited for a keyboard to magically appear for accompaniment.
--Made an extra rehearsal because the video didn't catch it the first (or second) take.
--Used a translator when coordinating the music.

This list was compiled just from today's rehearsal.

Certainly, in playing the violin, you will discover in a short amount of time that violinists are in high demand for wedding music. I wish to warn all would-be wedding musicians to consider the high stakes and infinite complexity of wedding gigs before agreeing to play, especially if you are asked within one week of the special date.

Do not be deceived into thinking that the gig in question will be any different from the scenario I just described. All this, and more, happens every single time, without fail. You must have the temperament of a plaster-smile yes-man with pretzel-like flexibility. If you do not have such qualities, they can be yours--for just the right price.

Don't sell yourself short of your worth. After all, you are the glue that binds this wedding, not the vows. If it was just vows they were interested in, they wouldn't have hired the boat and included the dogs.

So, before you book that next wedding gig, ask yourself the value of your magic touch during that crucial moment. Ask yourself what kind of amazing person it takes to be able to create keyboards and stands out of thin air, to parade the party in orderly fashion while timing the music down to the second, to speak Russian, and to turn a good phrase while fighting gale-force winds to keep the bow on the string. Think about the humidity, the rain, the glaring sun, the frazzled bride and groom, and the father-in-law who would like to know when you are going to play D for his cue. Consider all this, and the little dog, too, before you set your price, and make a vow never to sell yourself short again.

For the right price, you will be able to smile through anything. And it could be anything; trust me.

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August 12, 2005 01:08

After a summer glazed with frolick and felicity, I dusted off the old fiddle in preparation for the upcoming season. The August line-up included an annual visit from Syracuse's DeVere quartet. I admit, I don't know much about this quartet, but everyone raves about them, and isn't it a given that all musicians from New York are something else? I couldn't pass up the opportunity for a group lesson from the violist. My Amanita trio had been working on a Reger Sarabande, and we were curious about how we could improve it.

Personally, that piece is one of those countless numbers that I always mean to get around to practicing, but never quite get into my daily agenda. Each past performance had consisted of a basic patch-job, using whatever fingerings and articulation that would fly me past the largely indiscriminate crowd. You know, cheating? It's that thing you do when you know the amount of detail work that you should apply and instead choose a shortcut. So when I dusted the Reger off, I envisioned the upcoming lesson, and guessed at what would be addressed.

How about that primitive spiccato? Hmm, those harmonics are stifled. And darn it if that fingering doesn't just wobble over those two strings like a drunkard. I should have shifted to third. Hope he doesn't notice that shoddy bow distribution, too.

Okay, this ending is predictable, isn't it? Something about a performance and a nice guy with a doctor's demeanor, the sensation of being naked on the examinating table and the anticipation of bad news...

Well, the prognosis is--exactly everything I predicted, starting with the spiccato and finishing with the bow distribution. It was about as nasty as a needle in the finger; the mounting fear was the worst part. As he guided the lesson, I actually became bolstered by the fact that although I've taught myself all alone for the past two years, I at least was right on track about my self-assessment.

As the lesson concluded, my violist commented that our teacher was a distinguished fellow, a student of none other than Galamian (did that man get around or what?) I wonder if my Galamian-taught college professor's advice actually lives with me today, even if I don't remember it.

And I'm pretty sure I can fix those things, too!

It was a pretty good day.

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August 8, 2005 00:09


Today as I donned my pale green pants,
I pondered who else might possibly wear
the same unique pair, with tailored knees
--and if so, would I ever meet them?

And today, I did--not once, but twice--

as I walked down the street in my pale green pants,
composing the lines I would write just now
on the chance occurence of the meeting of the two,
the convergence of the pale green pants.

This was the most eventful thing that happened today.

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August 7, 2005 03:06

All the musicians are tied up at the moment. The summer music festival is in full swing, and I'm playing hookey from the community orchestra. I don't know if most of them have the summer off, or are otherwise less occupied, but I found forty hours of rehearsal and driving over the next two weeks, all on top of a gloriously hectic job, to be a bit too much. So I play hookey while all the musicians flock to rehearsal.

Meanwhile, Peter and Erin planned their wedding, picking the colors, booking the restaurant, calling the cake decorator. Little did they know that they should never have picked the 13th of August for their most special day, for all the musicians of the town have vacated. By the time the bride-to-be reached me, she had such a desperate look about her that I felt the urge to rub my hands together with dollar signs zinging in my eyes. I refrained--after all, she's my friend. She begged me to play. It was all up to me. Me, and the Russian Pianist.

Peter talked to me the other night about the pianist. "Yeah, she goes to our church, and we like her a lot, and perhaps you could work things out with her over the phone and get back with us." Sure, no problem. With emphasis on the word "you", they seemed overly enthusiastic to hand me all the power of coordinating the music end of things. I heard the Russian play Rachmaninoff a couple of years ago at the local "Evening of Classics" concert, and felt more assured about blindly accepting a gig with so little notice. At least I knew we could play Pachelbel.

I tried to contact her and got the machine the first two times, so I left a couple of lengthy messages. Then came a brief response on my own machine: "Yeah Natasha, I call back." Later, "Yeah Natasha, I'm looking... Pachelbel for... ...not have Bach... me." I couldn't understand everything that lies between the dots, since her accent was authentically thick. Later, I tried her number once more.

"Yeah Natasha." Behind her voice, I could hear a recording of a rich tenor voice singing opera. "Nice music," I commented. She began to talk about the singer as she flipped off the recording. I immediately drowned in her accent, and although I caught more than once the phrase, "You see, my English is clumsy," I knew little else in the soliloquy. She was explaining her love of the tenor; I caught that part. "...beautiful... ...favorite... ...moral, spiritual, physical... rich and full..." She shared her passion for the opera singer for some ten minutes as I squinted to see if it would help me understand her better. I suppose it didn't matter if I translated all the words anyway; I got the gist of what she meant. She let me know that if we should become friends, she would have me borrow the recording so I could enjoy it with her.

I've spoken with Natasha twice now, and I'm curious as to exactly how much we each are successfully translating. I suspect that as I speak, she squints her eyes on the other end of the line to see if it helps her understand me better.

One thing we're both clear on: Pachelbel. I think I'm getting her the music on Tuesday, and I think she lives on Redoubt street, and I think we're rehearsing on Friday. I know we're playing Pachelbel.

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August 2, 2005 01:13

Rock Star Syndrome

I've been called spoiled more than once in my life. This type of insult was always a bit two-fold, since it not only defamed my own character, but also accused my parents of poorly rearing me. Each incident stung, and the words seared into my memory, not to be forgotten. Spoiled? Brat? Yes, that word was added, too, and by my public school orchestra teacher, no less! The other time I was called this was by my college violin professor.

So I think about this. I thought about it a lot this week, while I dealt with several not-so-glamorous episodes of real life, like cleaning up dog vomit and diarrhea several times, cleaning fish-goo off the kitchen floor, and cleaning up after people in the kitchen who leave messes while accusing me of sloppiness. Cleaning in general makes me turn up my nose like a, well, spoiled brat, and say "Ew, this is gross, I won't do this!"

My parents, I tend to believe, did a great job of raising me. My mom was strict about rules and discipline. I'm sure I would be a complete mess if it weren't for my solid upbringing. So why would I be so spoiled, to fret over getting my fingernails grimy, to whine about bill-paying and folding clothes, expecting my dinners cooked when I'm done teaching and the unsightly trash transported to the dump? Who anointed me Queen of the Domicile?

I'm going to call it "Rock Star Syndrome". RSS would be defined as the ego that results from attention and petting and adoration that complements the talent we musicians were all trained to seek. In school, I took the road of the Diligent Pursuer of Higher Achievement. Who needs babysitting when I can get all my needs met by getting good grades and practicing? I've never changed a diaper. My car was given to me, my college education granted by full scholarship. I never worked until I was 20, unless you count summer camp counseling (which was way, way more fun than work). I was a Rock Star.

To the student who scores the high marks on tests, who uses her skill to avoid all appearance of wrong, what is it like to be condescended or ordered around? I'm sure I must've been quite the punk as concertmaster of our orchestra all those years. My own grandpa said I'd argue with a brick wall if I thought I was right and it was wrong about the waxing or waning of the moon. When you're right, you're right, and that's that. And when you've worked hard to be the most proficient, why listen to anyone else, especially if the advice comes from someone who only ended up with a job as a public school teacher, not famous like the Rock Star that I was destined to become. I'm pretty sure I showed signs of RSS even as a grade school kid.

Today, although I may not be famous, I have sculpted myself the perfect summer "glamour job"--Chief Baker of Cookies and Sweets and All Things Adored by Children. It is, in my opinion, the most noble role in the entire camp. All day long, though I may slave away diligently, people lavish me with compliments, stroking my ego a bit more, inching the pedestal a bit higher and further aggravating the symptoms of RSS. This is why I rant and rave when my dog digs the salmon out of the trash at night and gorges until he pukes on my trail shoes, and there is no one else to whip and point to the task. No one but me to towel up the partially digested scraps and take out the trash. Poor talented me, wasting all my ability on such menial chores. I should never squander a minute doing anything but honing my lofty skills and feeding my creative whims. After all, I'm special; I have RSS.

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